Previously, we have examined how Jesus fulfilled both God’s purposes for humanity and his redemptive calling for Israel. Today, we’ll add the aspect of Jesus’ Messianic identity that was nearly impossible to anticipate – “Son of God.”
As we move forward, let’s not forget how audacious (and seemingly blasphemous) this claim really was – and still is! Every Jew would have been familiar with the legendary feats of Moses: the plagues leading to Israel’s freedom from Egypt, the Red Sea parting for Israel and then collapsing on the Egyptian army, the manna sustaining millions of people wandering through the wilderness, the river of water flowing out of a rock. Moses was the man! And how about Elijah? He initiated and then ended a 3.5 year draught; he raised people from the dead. And when Elijah’s time came, he didn’t die! He just ascended to heaven right in front of his protege.
Yet no one was foolish enough to call either of these men God.
So what made things different with Jesus? Of course, we know now that Jesus was the Son of God, but how and why did the first disciples reach that conclusion? Our search for an answer, once again, drives us into God’s story. Jesus didn’t appear out of nowhere. A lot had already unfolded when he arrived on the scene. With humanity. With Israel. And with God.
God in Creation. Obviously, God had great intentions for creation. Humanity was the centerpiece within creation, but we were not left here alone to fend for ourselves. We were created to govern creation on behalf of God…while being like God and reflecting him into all creation…while walking with God and knowing him quite well. In this initial scenario, CREATION was God’s resting place (Genesis. 2:2). Not a temple. Not a sanctuary. The whole creation – the heavens and the earth together in all of God’s creative glory.
This beautiful scene was ravaged in the rebellion. And as a result, humanity was exiled – from God’s presence & purpose and from their God-given niche in creation known as the Garden of Eden.
God in Israel. Several generations later, God called Abraham and his descendants (Israel) both as faithful representatives of humanity and as a redemptive witness among the nations. To fulfill this universal and redemptive mission, God set apart a special people within a special land.
Beyond their calling, another significant part of what made Israel so unique among the nations was that they were the caretakers of God’s temple. Although humanity at large had been exiled from God’s presence in the rebellion, Israel’s temple now stood as a reminder of what once was. It was filled with imagery from creation. And it was the one place on earth where the lines still blurred between the heavens and the earth. Although it was only accessible to the high priest one day each year, God was still present within creation in the inner-most sanctuary of the temple.
As we know, Israel fell to sin and rebellion. Rather than being a light to the world, Israel succumbed to idolatry and self-interest. As a result, Israel was exiled – from God’s presence and from their God-given land and purpose. Ten tribes were overtaken and assimilated into the Assyrian Empire around 722 B.C. A little more than a century later in 586 B.C., the remaining tribes were conquered and exiled into Babylon. In the midst of Israel’s fall to sin and corruption, the prophet Ezekiel witnessed the presence of God withdrawing from the Temple and ascending back into the heavens before the Temple’s ultimate destruction in the Babylonian invasion (Ezekiel 10).
Prophetic Hope. Yet amidst Israel’s failure and subsequent exile, a prophetic hope began echoing… Exile would come to an end. Rebellion & sin would be forgiven. And on the heels of forgiveness, God’s presence would return. The Kingdom would be reestablished according to the lineage of David. This restoration would be possible because of a coming transformation:
And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God (Ezekiel 11:19-20).
Where humanity had repeatedly failed, God promised to intervene and accomplish for humanity what they could not accomplish for themselves.
So amidst fiery judgments on Israel’s sin, this prophetic hope continued to echo:
- Israel would live into their purposes before and on behalf of humanity.
- All humanity would once again glorify God.
- All creation would be restored.
The prophets insisted that God’s plans would not be thwarted forever. He would intervene where humanity had failed: Sin would be forgiven. Exile would end. God’s presence would return. His purposes would be fulfilled. The Old Testament ends in the poignant juxtaposition of this prophetic hope amidst catastrophic failure.
Son of God. Though we now have the benefit of hindsight, it was very difficult for Israel to anticipate the means by which God would accomplish all that had been foretold. In fact, in the days of the New Testament, much of Israel had grown dull to the hope and purposes of God. Many others had taken things into their own hands. And when God’s plan finally took shape in Jesus Christ, they failed to recognize God’s intervention – the dawning of their own redemption.
But the mystery and wonder of Jesus was not lost on everyone. The earliest disciples of Jesus realized what was happening. They knew God’s story. They knew the Old Testament prophetic hope. And after centuries of divine silence, they recognized the unthinkable – God’s intervention had come to pass in and through Jesus…the Son of God!
The end of exile.
The return of God’s presence.
The renewal of God’s people.